Bess with gift

Director Celebrates 20 Years of Connecting Community

Bess Clark is celebrating 20 years as the Executive Director at Community Connections.

Clark didn’t always work in the human services field – she first came to Alaska in 1979 as a surveyor for the Forest Service on Prince of Wales. But when she had a son born with a developmental disability, she became interested in special education and children. She went back to school and got her Special Education degree, as well as degrees in Elementary Education and Business Administration.

She started at Community Connections in 1986 as the Infant Learning Director. After doing that for a while, she became the Executive Director in 1999.

Since Community Connections was founded in 1985, there have only been two Executive Directors: Clark and founder Joanna DeSanto. Not many major local nonprofits have such longstanding leadership. Throughout her years here, Clark has provided strong leadership, and is well-connected within the community. She has ensured that we follow our mission every day: to provide individualized, customer guided supports that encourage independence, community belonging, and quality of life.

In the past 20 years, what stands out to Clark the most is when we added mental health therapists (Child and Family Therapists) to our array of services, and when we built Opportunity House, a supported living apartment complex for adults with disabilities. She says she’s also proud of the growth and consistent quality of services.

“We touch so many peoples’ lives,” she says. “Every day, we’re having a positive impact.”

Her hope for the future is to continue to provide quality supports, and also to grow our endowment fund so that we can self-fund some of our services in the coming years.

When asked why she comes to work every day, Clark smiled. “Because every day is a new day.”

“There’s never a dull moment,” she says. “It’s the people we serve, and the people who work here. They’re fabulous.”

Community Connections is one of the largest nonprofits in southern southeast Alaska, serving around 600 people each year, ranging in age from newborns to elders. We’re also one of the largest employers, with over 200 staff in Ketchikan, Prince of Wales, and Metlakatla. We provide support to individuals through their Early Learning (Infant Learning) Program, Children’s Mental Health, and Senior & Disability Services.

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